FAMM is mobilizing families across the country to ensure that our criminal justice system is both fair and effective. For far too long, people who have made mistakes and broken the law have been subject to harsh, one-size-fits-all sentencing and prison policies that ignore the unique facts and circumstances of the crime and the individual. This approach is not only un-American, it wastes taxpayer dollars with sentences that are too long, too heavy-handed, and too focused on punishment instead of rehabilitation for the 94% of all prisoners who will return to our neighborhoods one day. FAMM is changing all this by supporting reforms at the federal and state level, including:
Our efforts to reform federal laws happen in three primary arenas:
- Bills Pending In Congress — Current bills FAMM supports and opposes
- Federal Sentencing Guidelines — Current changes to sentencing guidelines that FAMM supports or opposes
- Cases in the U.S. Supreme Court — Information about appellate court cases and amicus briefs that FAMM has been involved in
If you have questions about FAMM’s advocacy at the federal level, please contact Josh Mitman, Director of Federal Legislative Affairs, at 202-822-6700 or firstname.lastname@example.org
FAMM in the States:
States across the country are realizing that growing prison populations and costs are the result of adopting mandatory minimum sentencing laws and prison policies that keep people behind bars too long without increasing public safety. In response, states are cutting costs by repealing or reforming sentencing and prison policies. Read our summary of state reforms.
If you have questions about FAMM’s advocacy in the states, please contact Molly Gill, Vice President of Policy, at 202-822-6700 or email@example.com.
Though we’re no longer working in the following states, FAMM made significant accomplishments during our time there:
History of Legislation:
2018: Despite widespread opposition from FAMM and Maryland’s criminal justice advocacy community, in 2018 Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed HB 1029, SB 101, SB 1137, and HB 888 into law. These laws created:
- A new 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence with no parole for people who commit a second “crime of violence” (SB 101)
- New 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentences with no parole for offenses involving 5 grams of pure fentanyl or fentanyl analogues; 28 grams of a mixture containing any detectable amount of fentanyl or fentanyl analogues; 28 grams of a mixture containing any detectable amount of heroin; or 448 grams of a mixture containing any detectable amount of methamphetamine (SB 1137)
- New 1-, 3-, and 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentences with no parole for people who carry loaded handguns on their person or in their cars and have previously been convicted of a gun offense (HB 1029)
- New consecutive, 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence with no parole for use of a bump stock in a felony or crime of violence (HB 888).
Maryland is also one of the only states that requires that the governor approve all parole grants to people serving life without parole. FAMM supported House and Senate bills to remove the requirement for the governor’s approval, but these bills did not pass into law in 2018.
2016: On May 19, 2016, Governor Hogan (R) signed the Justice Reinvestment Act, a bill FAMM and its members supported throughout 2016. The law went into effect on October 1, 2017. The bill had tremendous support from both Democrats and Republicans and was championed by State Senator Michael Hough, who in 2015 helped the Maryland legislature pass the broadest safety valve exception to mandatory minimums in the country. That safety valve allowed judges to depart from a mandatory minimum in any drug case in which the court thought the minimum was not needed to protect public safety or would result in a substantial injustice to the defendant. The Justice Reinvestment Act goes even further: it eliminates Maryland’s crack and powder cocaine disparity and eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.
After years of advocacy from FAMM, on April 13, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed S. 2371 into law after the bill passed the Massachusetts Senate unanimously and the Massachusetts House of Representatives by a vote of 148-5. This new law repealed a number of mandatory minimums for low-level drug distribution offenses and created a system of medical parole in Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However, the new law also created new mandatory minimums for drug crimes involving synthetic opioids, fentanyl, and carfentanyl as well as repeat DUI offenses and assault on an officer resulting in serious bodily injury.
In 2017, FAMM supported S.819 sponsored by Senator Cynthia Creem. This bill would have repealed Massachusetts’ mandatory minimum drug laws.
FAMM helped key legislators draft a bill to repeal all drug mandatory minimums. However, no action was taken on the bill.
Mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses were shortened, by up to one-third. For drug offenders who were already in prison, many became eligible for parole, work release and earned good time — either at an earlier date or for the first time ever. The size of drug-free school zones was also reduced from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, to better reflect the law’s intent to protect children.
State lawmakers eased harsh drug sentencing laws for the first time since they were enacted in the 1980s. Certain nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimums sentences at county prisons (called “houses of correction” in Massachusetts) became eligible for parole.
Massachusetts lawmakers created a system of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. These “one size fits all” sentences are usually based solely on the weight of the drugs in question, not what the person actually did or whether he or she is a danger to public safety.
In 2018, FAMM supported HB 2111 and SB 2062, which, if passed, would have reformed Tennessee’s drug school zone sentencing enhancements. Unfortunately, both bills died in the Tennessee Legislature. Tennessee has one of the broadest and harshest drug-free school zone laws in the nation. Under current law, a first-time low-level drug offender can see their prison sentence more than quadruple simply for being within 1,000 feet of a school at the time of the offense. The mandatory sentence enhancement under Tennessee’s drug-free school zone law applies to all offenders within 1,000 feet of a school, park, library, daycare center, or recreational center regardless of the time of day or whether or not a child was present. This law has resulted in hundreds of individuals like Sara Moore and Calvin Bryant serving sentences far longer than public safety demands, costing both their families and the public. Below are resources on why this law needs reform:
- Absurd and Unjust: The Case Against Tennessee’s Drug-Free School Zone Reform
- The Need For Drug-Free School Zone Reform in Tennessee
- Victims call for Tennessee drug-free school zone law reform
- National Criminal Justice Reform Organizations Call for Drug-Free School Zone Reform in Tennessee
- FAMM Fights for Drug Free School Zone Law
- Reason Magazine: The Myth of the Playground Pusher
- The Tennessean: Tennessee’s drug laws punish the whole family
- The Tennessean: He got 17 years for selling drugs near school. Now 12 Nashville officials are fighting on his behalf.
- Patch: Nashville Case Highlights Drug-Free School Zone Reform Efforts
- News Channel 5: Man’s 17-year Sentence Highlights Injustice in School Zone Law
In November 2017, FAMM, along with a number of leading national criminal justice organizations, sent a letter to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam urging him to support reform of Tennessee’s drug-free school zone law in the 2018 legislative session.
In December 2017 Michigan adopted a major reform to its drug sentencing laws. SB 72 and SB 73 (along with SB 220) eliminate life without parole for second and subsequent convictions for the “manufacture, delivery, possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, or simple possession of” between 50 and 1,000 grams “of a Schedule 1 or 2 narcotic or cocaine,” and create parole eligibility for offenders currently serving life without parole sentences for those offenses.
Longtime FAMM supporters will remember back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when we spearheaded the successful effort to repeal Michigan’s notorious “650-Lifer” drug mandatory minimum law. FAMM was happy to support SB 72 and 73, which help finish the work we started back then, and provide the possibility of relief from unnecessarily punitive sentences to those still suffering from the lingering effects of 650-Lifer.
As you can read in a summary of the bill here, a wide range of state-based and national groups across the political spectrum supported these bills, while “no arguments opposing the bills were offered.” It’s safe to say that Michigan — one of the first states to adopt mandatory minimum drug laws back in the early 1970s — has learned its lesson well. Here’s hoping other states follow their lead!
History of Legislation
In May 2017, FAMM and seven partner organizations delivered a letter to the Michigan Senate. The coalition praised Michigan’s past leadership in drug sentencing reform and urged lawmakers to now take the next step: repealing life without parole provisions in drug sentencing laws and creating parole eligibility for those currently serving life without parole for drug offenses.
HB 4694 was passed as a part of a package of laws which provides a framework by which judicial circuits may establish and run mental health courts.34 Specifically, this law permits circuit or district courts to establish mental health courts and defines the essential structure and characteristics to which they must adhere, including the types of services they should provide. The law allows courts to establish general eligibility requirements, including accepting individuals who have previously been placed on probation, participated in a similar program, or who have had criminal proceedings against them deferred.
The state passed additional reforms that provide earlier parole eligibility to most of the drug offenders who were not affected by the earlier reforms.
During this time, Michigan passed sweeping reforms of its mandatory minimum drug penalties. The legislature repealed almost all drug mandatory minimums, changed lifetime probation to a five-year probationary period and implemented new sentencing guidelines.
Lawmakers repealed mandatory life sentences without parole for certain drug offenses and made those serving such sentences eligible for parole.
History of Legislation:
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed SB 220 into law, which repeals most of Louisiana’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. Earlier, FAMM sent a letter of support of SB 220 to the Louisiana legislature. The law’s passage—which involved the hard work of several reform groups—is especially impressive considering that Louisiana is the biggest jailer in the country.
2015: HB149 was signed by then-Governor Jindal in support of state lawmakers, law enforcement lobbying groups, and the ACLU to ease up marijuana penalties in the state. Maximum penalties of 20-year sentences dropped to eight and the threshold for felony-level possession was raised to three-time multiple offenders. Additionally, a new second-chance provision was added for first-time offenders.
HB332 was enacted, a policy that doubles the mandatory minimum sentence for heroin distribution from five years to 10. It also created a new mandatory minimum of two years for heroin possession.
SB 398/HB 683 expands eligibility for participation in a drug court probation program. Defendants who are charged with a violent crime, domestic battery, or driving under the influence, have other pending violent criminal charges, or have a prior homicide conviction are ineligible. Each drug court must issue an annual evaluation of effectiveness that details the program’s impact on recidivism.
HB 670 expands opportunities for intensive parole supervision—early release under the strictest level of supervision—to nonviolent habitual offenders. To be eligible, a person must be assessed as low-risk for reoffending and fulfill certain criteria, including completion of pre-release programming and educational goals.
HB 781 expanded an already-existing reentry program— the “Offender Reentry Support Pilot Program”—in the Pointe Coupee Detention Center. The law authorizes the Pointe Coupee Sheriff to find funding, create an advisory board, and implement the program, which must include individually tailored programs providing behavioral health treatment, education, and job-skills training. The program will connect people leaving prison with community stakeholders and assist them in obtaining housing, necessary documentation, health insurance, and child care upon release.
2012: Louisiana enacted three new prison reform laws in May 2012, including one that gave prosecutors discretion to waive mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent, non-sex offenses.
The Iowa Legislature passed a sentencing reform bill for the second straight year in 2017! The new bill, SF 445, was passed unanimously by the Iowa House of Representatives on April 18, 2017, and unanimously passed by the Iowa Senate on March 15, 2017. It was signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad on May 10, 2017. Read FAMM’s press release about the signing of the bill here. [Update when press release is added]
What the New Law Does: SF 445 includes several of the reforms that were previously in a different Iowa bill FAMM supported, HF 579, but which did not pass through both houses of the Iowa Legislature. SF 445 makes some important reforms to Iowa’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, including:
- Repealing the 20-month mandatory minimums for Class C drug offenses. This reform is retroactive, meaning about 200 Class C drug offenders currently in Iowa prisons will become parole eligible on July 1, 2017.
- Creating a new rule allowing judges to reconsider and adjust a person’s sentence for a Class C or D felony any time during the first year a person is in state prison. Judges or the Department of Corrections must request reconsideration of the sentence, and the judge must notify prosecutors of the reconsideration and may have a hearing, if necessary. The judge may or may not change the original sentence, and that decision cannot be appealed.
- Narrowing Iowa’s outdated disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. Previously, it took 10 times as much powder as crack cocaine to get the same sentence. SF 445 increased the quantities of crack cocaine in section 124.401 so that it takes only 2.5 times as much powder as crack cocaine to get the same sentence. This brings Iowa closer into line with crack sentencing in the rest of the states and makes crack sentences much fairer.
FAMM supported SF 445 and thanks Governor Branstad and Attorney General Tom Miller for their support of sentencing reform. We’re also grateful for the leadership of the lawmakers who championed the bill, House Majority Whip Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant), Rep. Rick Olson (D-Des Moines), House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights), Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion), Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), and Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale).